It is, however, all very funny. Over here.
Archive for October, 2009
Listening to the radio here in Cambridge, the adverts all seem to be public health announcements of one kind or another, warning us against unprotected sex, too much salt in our soup, and driving our cars into fens. Has the recession meant that no-one’s buying radio spots at all, so government agencies (or whatever) are just block-booking them all on the cheap, or is Cambridgeshire a much, much more dangerous and debauched (and, I suppose, salty) place than I’ve been led to believe hitherto?
So I’ve been spending too much time recently reading things by and about Henry Sidgwick:
Most of Sidgwick’s close friends were gay; the best known is John Addington Symonds. This involved Sidgwick in a great deal of delicate counseling about publicity — what studies and poems to publish (or how to modify them to admit safer construals), what risks in private life to take, and, in the case of Symonds’s posthumous biography, based on his frank memoirs, what (massive) excisions to make so that emotional turmoil appears as religious doubt. At one point, the editor of the biography wrote to Sidgwick that “if I came to this book as an outsider I should only gather from the Davos pages indications of a man who made warm friendships with many people not of his own class”…
I’m kind of impressed by how much of the late twentieth-century argument about distributive justice among liberal political philosophers is basically anticipated in this paragraph from Sidgwick’s Principles of Political Economy (1883), pp. 506-7:
In this perplexity it may perhaps be suggested that we should measure desert not by achievement, by the utility rendered to the recipient of a service, but by the effort of the worker. And certainly this measurement is more in harmony with the general notion of good and ill desert, outside the region of exchange: we generally consider that the merit of a deserving act lies in its intention rather than its result, since this latter may be materially changed by causes for which the agent cannot be made responsible. But the attempt to apply this principle to the distribution of social produce involves us in difficulties that seem even theoretically insuperable. For not only shall we have to abstain from rewarding physical strength and quickness, and ingenuity, since these are qualities independent of voluntary effort; but we shall find it hard to justify the allotment of higher remuneration to those who have exhibited energy and perseverance, as we cannot prove that these qualities, like the former, are not merely gifts of nature, rather than manifestations of the free choice of the individual agent. Thus practically on this line of argument the principle of rewarding desert will find no realisation, through our scrupulous anxiety to realise it exactly! Now, whatever may be said, on the principles of necessarianism in favour of practically discarding the attempt to reward Desert, [Note: The reconstructors of society who discard Desert seem driven to adopt as their principle of distributive justice either simple Equality, or Equality modified by differences of Need...] it must be admitted that this conclusion is not in harmony with our common notions of Justice. Still, the reasoning which has gradually led to this conclusion seems to shew that the demand for greater equity in distribution can only be practically interpreted as a demand that differences in remuneration, due to causes other than the voluntary exertions of the labourers remunerated, should be reduced as far as possible.